Manchester City Council’s assault on the Gay Village

By Jack Chadwick (@jckchd)


Town Hall has sent inspectors into the Gay Village, questioning the legality of several well-loved bars and parties to ‘consider’ their compliance with licensing laws.

The targeted spaces are staples of the Village and therefore at the centre of the social and sexual lives of many gay and bisexual men in the city. Venues and parties in the council’s cross-hairs are those known for providing safe environments for men who have sex with men to do so freely.

In London, the closure of similar spaces has rerouted thousands of gay and bi men into the burgeoning chem sex scene. While the use of drugs in sex is nothing to be scared of, in a climate of low info and stigma the risks involved in this kind of private party are much higher. The prohibition of safe public venues for participatory sex is a health risk for gay and bi men.

In Manchester, it could also come to mean the loss of something less tangible than our safety. The Gay Village, however troubled, has for decades been a quite literal hotbed for the affirmation of sexual adventure and the good times these (relatively new) freedoms allow.

Manchester City Council hypocritically banks on this image.

With the one hand, the council promotes the cultural importance of the Gay Village through profit-boosting festivities at Pride and year-round tourism drives – all while the other hand tries to cram as many new developments into the Canal Street area as possible. The tension has existed for a while.

The news of this intrusion suggests council execs believe they can have their cake and eat it: keep the village, but make it congruous with the plans of the construction capitalists whose mastery of the council is evident from the hundreds of cranes looming over the city, pulling up stack upon stack of little boxes.

“Compliance” with licensing laws is a ploy for compliance with the property market. It’s easier to sell property on and around a sanitized Canal Street, one reduced to a generic strip of chintzy bars. The scheme fed to the council by developers is, in the words of one promoter, “to make the Village a Disneyland pastiche of what it was.”

It’s easier to sell luxury flats and commercial concessions in a Disneyland pastiche, however naff that sounds, than in the messy reality of the Village. Development capital fears that the market it has in mind for its boxes – the nose-holding professional and managerial class – don’t want to live alongside the kind of sexual spaces that exist in the village today.

The marginalisation of these spaces by the council is about the margins of return on development, with the council’s executives again acting as the political wing of the construction sector. To be absolutely clear: Sex parties are legal. These venues and parties have operated, sometimes for decades, under the same laws, and the better treatment of this type of space by other local authorities acting under the same legal regime shows that the council’s hostility is its choice alone.

If the people of Manchester wrested control of our local authority from the development lobby, it would be our choice – and it should be. If we deselected every councillor in the pocket of construction firms, outsourcing leviathans, architects agencies and landlords, there wouldn’t be many left. Their offices could instead be filled with working-class Mancunians committed to fighting the monopoly of the big glass towers and the execs whose offices sit at the top of them.


17 February 2020